Prime Minister, Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I was last here in Kosovo on 17 May to celebrate the entry into force of our Stabilisation and Association Agreement.
At that time, I stressed how this was a defining moment in our relations. As our first contractual relationship it is proof that our ties with Kosovo are intensifying and that Kosovo’s European aspirations are real.
But I also stressed that the Stabilisation and Association Agreement is of limited value if the country does not have a clear EU strategic vision in order to work together on a common European agenda.
And this is why I discussed with Prime Minister Mustafa the need to have a European Reform Agenda to serve as a platform of our joint strategic objective to implement reforms and move the country closer to its EU path. There have been many missed opportunities over the past year.
Unfortunately, as we reported in this year’s report on Kosovo which we published only last Wednesday, the polarisation between political parties has continued to prevent Kosovo from making substantial progress on EU reforms. And standing here in front of you today I would like to be clear: We cannot afford any more missed opportunities.
The European Reform Agenda is a tool to help us reap the benefits of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement. Implementing reforms to strengthen its democratic governance, the economy and the rule of law will make Kosovo more attractive for foreign investors, create jobs, and eventually enable the economy to flourish.
To achieve this we need to be very specific and aim for concrete deliverables. This is reflected in the agreed roadmap which lists specific priorities to be implemented over the next 12 to 18 months.
This of course requires a concerted effort, not only from government, but also from the opposition, civil society, and business. And I am really pleased of the close co-operation and inclusive nature of the process in identifying the priorities in consultation with business community, civil society, international partners and financing institutions.
The European Reform Agenda covers the three key areas that are essential for Kosovo’s present and future development:
- The first is Good Governance and the Rule of Law. It tackles some important challenges such as independence of the judiciary, merit-based appointments and selection procedures, and transparency in political party finances. When implemented, there will be improved merit-based recruitment in the public administration. Another measure is the introduction of e-procurement which will go a long way in ensuring transparency and accountability in the awarding of selection of public tenders.
- The second area is the Competitiveness and Investment Climate. We want to raise Kosovo’s production base and export capacities, to close the competitiveness gap, to tackle the large informal economy and to improve the business environment which will create a better investment climate. Creating an investor aftercare programme, aligning the rules with international accounting standards, reducing the administrative burdens for setting up companies and improving the “Doing Business” indicators of the World Bank will help to attract foreign investors who are keen to have simplified procedures and a predictable and stable regulatory environment.
- The final key area is Employment and Education. The measures identified here will help create a functioning labour market which can provide more employment opportunities. Better teacher training programmes, creating links between education and the job market, improving the quality of vocational training and facilitating school to work transition are some of the measures that aim to provide the young people of Kosovo with the right skills necessary to get a job in Kosovo.
Let me be clear: The European Reform Agenda is the European Commission’s priority for now and the future. It is our pact with the country and its people and is irrespective of who is in government. These reforms are urgent and some of them overdue. But when implemented it can bring great benefits for the people of Kosovo. It will stop the brain drain and turn it into brain circulation, allowing the young bright people to have an economic future in Kosovo.
At the same time it will make your economy more competitive, more open and more connected, therefore bringing you even closer to the EU.
The EU is already contributing EUR 165 million to help turn European Reform Agenda objectives into reality and we will continue to offer our long-term political and financial support to help Kosovo in this regard.
But ultimately it is up to Kosovo to make this a success.
It is now time to act and implement the reforms I have outlined today. I will be coming here regularly to assess, together with you, the progress made in implementing the European Reform Agenda and to update it if need be.
I am confident that the European Reform Agenda will act as a unifying force, helping all parties work together to achieve the same goals as Kosovo continues on its path to European integration.
This is what the people of Kosovo want and this is what we should all aim for.